Shelter by Jung Yun: “Even the devout have their secrets”

April 14, 2016 Fiction 31

Shelter, Jung YunFiction
Released March 15, 2016
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by Picador)


This perfectly balanced (between story and style) debut novel is my third 5 star book of the year!

Plot Summary

After a tragic incident forces Kyung Cho’s parents to move in with him and his young family, they are forced to confront Kyung’s unhappy childhood and address long-simmering family resentments.

Why I Read It

Shannon at River City Reading included Shelter in a Recommendation Breakdown post of books to try if you loved Did You Ever Have A Family, which I did!

Major Themes

Family dysfunction, appearance vs. reality, getting beneath the surface of people, maintaining your identity through motherhood, Korean culture and values (particularly relating to marriage and family)

What I Liked Loved

  • This perfectly balanced (between story and style) debut novel is my third 5 star book of the year!
  • I love dysfunctional family books and Shelter is certainly one of those, but in a dark and serious way. This is decidedly not the “rich siblings fighting over their trust fund” type of family dysfunction (i.e. The Nest).
  • Shelter is the perfect balance between action-packed story, well-developed characters struggling with real issues, and gorgeous writing with lots of social commentary.
  • Shelter‘s first chapter ranks among the best first chapters I’ve ever read. Within the first 18 pages, the story went somewhere I didn’t expect and, by the end of the chapter, it had gone in multiple intriguing directions. It’s dark, intense, and emotional.
  • Many of the themes Yun addressed in this book resonated with me…particularly getting to know what’s behind people’s projected facade and maintaining your identity through motherhood. I completely identified with Kyung’s frustration with his parents’ and their church friends’ smoke and mirrors, refusal to address the real issues, formality, and obsession with social niceties above all else.
  • I enjoyed the focus on cultural differences between Korean and American views of family obligations, gender roles within marriage, and parent/child dynamics. The juxtaposition of the dynamics between Kyung and his wife (Gillian, an Irish woman) with his parents’ marriage illuminates how the American-raised children of immigrants struggle with pleasing their more traditional parents, while living Americanized lives.
  • The ending was exactly what I crave, but rarely find: surprising, yet completely made sense in hindsight.

A Defining Quote

He’s not a good son; he knows this already. But he’s the best possible version of the son they raised him to be. Present, but not adoring. Helpful, but not generous. Obligated and nothing more.

Good for People Who Like…

Dysfunctional families, marriage, dislikable characters, dark stories, fathers and sons, immigrant culture/values

Other Books You May Like

Another book about an immigrant family living in America:
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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My third 5 star book of the year...a dark, intense take on family dysfunction.

31 Responses to “Shelter by Jung Yun: “Even the devout have their secrets””

  1. Kathy @ Kathy Reads Fiction

    I think I need to put a hold on this one at the library. I’ve been waiting to see if it lived up to the hype, and I usually love a dysfunctional family. I really think this is one I might love.

  2. Shannon @ River City Reading

    I’m so glad you loved this – I had a feeling you would! I totally agree about the end. The story kept changing in ways that surprised me, but felt satisfying and in line with the rest of the book. Definitely a great read!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      You were so, so right! You can be my book concierge anytime! Riding that line with surprise (surprising, yet not so out there that it feels gimmicky and doesn’t make sense with the story) is so difficult, but Yun did it so well!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      This one is a bit darker than both of those, but has a lot of similarities too. I hope you give it a shot!

  3. Tara

    Oh, my gosh…this post has me dying to read this one now, Sarah! I’d already decided I needed to add it to my list, thanks to Shannon, but this cements the deal! Great post and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the quote you included!

  4. Naomi

    So many things about this sound good! I love appearance vs. reality, and maintaining identity through motherhood themes. Comparing the cultural differences is also so interesting. I loved all those things about Everything I Never Told You. You have definitely convinced me!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Sadly I agree 🙂 I definitely had more then 3 5 star books at this time last year.

  5. NancyS

    Another fan of dysfunctional family fiction and I also loved Shelter. Before reading it, I had read The Nest (which I also loved) but need to start something a little different!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Yay – so glad you loved it! And I love the juxtaposition of two completely different styles of dysfunctional family books!

  6. Lindsay

    I’ve seen the book several times but yours is the first review I’ve read. It sounds awesome; I could definitely do with a 5-star read!

  7. Catherine

    We will agree to disagree on this one. There was not enough plot or prose to pull me out of the orbit of Kyung’s entitled whininess (sorry, just finished watching The Martian). I’m all for unlikable characters but they have to be interesting and, for me, he was not.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Dang – a chink in our twinness! I guess we can’t win every one 🙂 I think the issues he was whiny about held particular interest for me.

  8. Madeline

    I’m very late commenting but want to thank you for recommending this book. There was plot and voice in spades. Twists/turns and an excellent ending.

    I think this far outstrips “Did You Ever Have a Family” (which I liked OK but there were a lot of cardboard characters there). Yeah, Kyung is a little whiny but, doesn’t he deserve to be?

    The character renderings in “Shelter” were always unalterably true.

    This is right up there with “Tender” for my best book of the year to date.

    Sarah — you have wonderful recommendations!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Thank you so much and I’m so glad you loved Shelter! It’s still in the lead for my favorite of the year! And I know people have said Kyung was whiny, but I agreed with him on a lot of the stuff he was whining about!

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